Penny sleeves have been a ubiquitous part of the hobby for many decades and a vital part of safely storing your collection.
Penny sleeves can feel like such a standard hobby offering that you may think that no matter which ones you buy, they’re all the same. To explore this premise, we bought a bunch of different packages of top loaders and dove in…so you don’t have to. Let’s take a look!
If you are looking to learn about penny sleeves and why they are important, be sure to first check out the Cardlines Guide to Penny Sleeves for a deeper dive.
As mentioned, we started with ten different packages of top loaders. These came from a variety of brands, styles, and price points.
We reviewed the sleeves based on how informative the packaging is, how they feel in hand, how easy it is to get a card into the sleeve, and how well they appear to protect a card once inserted.
Sleeves were tested with a variety of junk-wax era cards of various thicknesses, gloss levels, and paper types. Brands and years included 1988 and 1989 Donruss, 1992 Studio, and 1991 Bowman.
One note: Card sleeves are a mass-produced, low-cost item. I have to imagine that quality can range from batch to batch and your results may not match my findings.
All prices include shipping and sales tax and all items were purchased via eBay. We’ll grade on a 5-point scale. It’s all a bit subjective, admittedly, but let’s see what we uncover.
Coming into this review, I’d have considered Ultra Pro (along with BCW) as the “name brands” of penny sleeves. Do they live up to that assessment?
Made of polypropylene with no PVC and Acid-free, these promise to be a strong long-term storage solution for your cards.
In my hand, I found these to feel a bit thin. They had good flex, but I must admit that I did find them a bit narrow and difficult to separate. They proved less than ideal for sliding a card into without damaging the corners, and overall just felt a bit too “tight” for comfort. Solid enough, but a little disappointing for a name brand offering.
Ultra Pro Card Sleeves Review
Where I came in thinking Ultra Pro was a “name brand” product, I must admit First Choice felt like a “generic brand”. I honestly had not heard of the brand before making my purchase. They are made of polypropylene with no PVC and are Acid free, however, so they in theory are a solid choice for long-term storage. They also get extra credit for calling them “penny sleeves”, not “card sleeves” on the package.
These are noticeably smaller than the Ultra Pro holders, in both width and height. That made for a very tight fit all around. The top of the card basically meets the top of the sleeve, which doesn’t bode well for the top corners and edge of the card from a protection standpoint. When I went to put a card into one of these sleeves, I dinged the lower left corner.
I would not purchase these again, and will use the remaining 99 in the pack very carefully and with low-value cards.
First Choice Penny Sleeves Review
Another “generic” feeling brand of penny sleeves, these don’t indicate the type of plastic (100% clear plastic”) the size (“fits 3 x 4 top loaders”) or the PVC/Acid content.
Lack of product data aside, these were significantly larger all around than the First Choice sleeves and noticeably wider than the Ultra Pro standard offering. That little bit of extra width made it easier to slide cards in while still offering plenty of protection.
Despite the generic branding, these are solid offerings. I would buy these again.
Card Pro Soft Sleeves Review
These penny sleeves are a brand I’ve bought before and have been pleased with. They are well labeled as being made of polypropylene and as acid-free and PVC free.
These are the same size as the Ultra Pro standard sleeves, to the point where if you told me they were made at the same factory, I wouldn’t doubt it. Despite this, I actually found these ever so slightly easier to load a card into than the Ultra Pro offerings.
These are a solid offering, and among the cheapest sleeves you’ll find.
Product: Cardboard Gold Card Sleeves
Cost (eBay): $1.82
Overall Grade: 3.5 / 5 Stars
Cardboard Gold Card Sleeves Review
Beckett has become something of a one-stop-shop for all things collecting, from price guides to grading to supplies. While these don’t specify what type of plastic they are, the package clearly states they are PVC and acid-free.
These penny sleeves are a solid offering, very similar to the Ultra Pro standard sleeves to the point where if you handed me a mixed stack of the two, I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. So, maybe not the best of the best, but a solid product.
Beckett Shield Card Sleeves Review
Something a little different here, with sleeves designed specifically for thick cards. These are wider than most penny sleeves by a small bit to accommodate a thicker card such as a relic.
If you’re looking to store 2-3 cards in a sleeve, this may be a good choice for that application as well. The package doesn’t indicate what type of plastic these are made with, but do mention that they contain no PVC.
These sleeves, being a bit wider than most, are easier to slide a card into. One huge disadvantage however, is that while the package claimed “fits inside 3×4 toploader”, I found this to NOT be the case. Perhaps teamed with a top loader designed for thick cards this would be a good setup, but do not purchase these expecting them to fit into a standard top loader.
BCW Thick Card Sleeves Review
CollectSaveProtect sleeves are well labeled. They are made of polypropylene, and the thickness (2 mil) and size (2 5/8x 3 11/16) are all clearly noted on the packaging.
The sleeves feel solid, noticeably thicker than several other brands we tested. The dimensions made sliding in cards of various thicknesses smooth and stress-free.
Overall, despite costing a few cents more than some competing products (per 100 sleeves), these are a good buy and will be one of my go-to brands going forward. For this review, I purchased five packs of 100 sleeves, and I’m glad I did as I’ll be well stocked with a very usable sleeve.
CollectSaveProtect Premium Trading Card Sleeves Review
This is another company I’d not heard of before starting this project. The package clearly states that they are made of polypropylene and free of both acid and PVC.
The BGL offering gets demerits for being over-packaged, with a large outside wrapper around a smaller inside package. That just feels like a lot of waste. When buying something plastic, there’s only so many layers of plastic it needs to come wrapped in. The inner package was unbranded, making me wonder if these are just repacking of some generic brand.
These penny sleeves stuck together and were harder to open than the others we reviewed, although once used they did allow cards to slide in and seemed to protect them about average.
Big Georges Laraque Card Sleeves Review
BCW is one of the other “name” brands in penny sleeves. Their packaging does tout the sleeves as “Acid-Free” without mentioning what type of plastic they are made of or the PVC content.
I must say, these hold up to their reputation as one of the better brands, as the sleeves were solid, a little wider than many, and fairly easy to slide a card into.
BCW Standard Card Sleeves Review
Shellz offering is a “cut corner” penny sleeve with a very small notch cut out of the top corner of the sleeve. To accommodate the notch, the sleeve is slightly taller than the standard penny sleeve. The idea is that the notch makes it easier to slide the card in without damaging it.
The packaging does not mention the kind of plastic used, but does mention they are acid-free and “archival safe”. A pack of 100 cost a good bit more than your standard penny sleeve offering, although not to the point of feeling excessive.
Were these easier to put cards into than a standard penny sleeve? I would say yes, although only slightly. Are they worth the additional cost? That’s a bit more debatable, but if you’re sleeving a lot of high-value cards, it just might be. I’d recommend trying them for yourself to see if you like them.
Shellz Easy Glide Soft Sleeve Review
While Ultra Prod is a well-known brand, these were a new offering to me. These are made of polypropylene and have no PVC or acid.
These aren’t simply cut corner sleeves they have a significant notch removed from the front of the card, which leaves some of the card exposed once it is inserted into the sleeve. That notch is theoretically designed to make putting the card in the holder easier. I found it to be quite the opposite, as these were the most difficult sleeves to work with in the entire review.
Add in the fact that these were by far the most expensive offering reviewed (several times more expensive than a standard pack of penny savers) and you have a major dud.
To add insult to injury, I found that when trying to sort cards placed in these sleeves, the notches tended to catch and make the process painfully awkward. I’m far more likely to throw the remaining 98 of these away than I would ever be to purchase them again.
Ultra Pro Easy Grade Card Sleeves Review
We had a surprise co-winner in the Card Pro soft sleeves, a bit of a no-name brand. These were ever so slightly bigger than most of the competitors. That small amount of extra material made a big difference when it came to ease of use and general card protection.
|Brand||Size||Opacity||Ease of Inserting||Feel||Overall|
|Card Pro Soft Sleeves||Buy||5.0||4.0||5.0||4.0||4.5|
|Collect Save Protect Premium Card Sleeves||Buy||5.0||3.0||5.0||5.0||4.5|
|BCW Standard Card Sleeves||Buy||5.0||3.0||4.0||4.0||4.0|
|Shellz Easy Glide Soft Sleeve||Buy||3.5||3.0||4.0||3.5||3.5|
|Cardboard Gold Card Sleeves||Buy||4.0||3.0||3.5||3.5||3.5|
|Ultra Pro Card Sleeves||Buy||3.0||4.0||2.0||3.0||3.0|
|Beckett Shield Card Sleeves||Buy||2.5||4.0||2.0||3.0||2.9|
|BCW Thick Card Sleeves||Buy||1.0||4.0||3.0||2.0||2.5|
|Big George's Laraque Card Sleeves||Buy||3.0||3.0||2.0||2.0||2.5|
|First Choice Penny Sleeves||Buy||2.0||2.0||1.0||1.0||1.5|
|Ultra Pro Easy Grade Card Sleeves||Buy||1.0||2.0||0.5||0.5||1.0|
I was glad to see that the CollectSaveProtect sleeves stood up to their claim of being a “premium” product. I’ll happily buy more of those in the future and use them with confidence.
As far as what separated the two? Not very much, honestly, which is why they are co-winners. From a size perspective, these were exactly the same. Again, this small amount of extra material made them much easier to slide in cards.
The CollectSaveProtect sleeves are a tiny bit thicker than the Card Pro offering. But the Card Pro is a touch clearer. Other than those small differences, they’re very similar, and clear winners in our competition.
This exercise was not without its surprises, which I think made it very worthwhile.
The fact that there were clear losers shows that not all penny sleeves are created equal. Some are less than ideal. Some are downright terrible.
We also learned that spending more doesn’t always get you better quality. It might get you a bit more in some cases. In other cases, it simply seems to pay for gimmicks. And clearly, going with a “name brand” doesn’t always get you the best product.
Penny sleeves may be a ubiquitous and somewhat mundane part of the hobby. But they’re important, and as we learned today, it pays off to find the best quality penny sleeves you can to better protect your cards.
Do you have a favorite penny sleeve? Let us know at card_lines on Twitter.